On Writing

A WORD ABOUT REGENCIES

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Writing historical fiction is especially rewarding because it allows one to wallow at will in another time frame. (And one learns so much!)

George_IV_by_Sir_Thomas_LawrenceWith the exception of In Enemy Hands (WWII), my work has been limited to Regency Romance. The “Regency” is named for George, Prince of Wales, who became official regent of Great Britain when his father, George III (“Mad King George” of the American Revolution) became too ill to carry out his duties. Strictly speaking, the Regency period lasted from 1810 to 1820 when the king died and the prince became George IV. Writers tend to be pretty liberal with the dates, though, dealing with from roughly 1800 to Victoria’s accession to the throne in the 1830s. England was in an almost constant state of war—in the colonies and then with Napoleon’s France—for fully two generations. (Sound familiar?—think two Gulf wars and Afghanistan plus.) This was also a time of great social upheaval which included the struggle for women’s rights; protests against persecution of Catholics, evangelicals, and Methodists; the industrial revolution with worker rebellion;, and the Romantic poets (Byron, Shelley, Keats). (One is reminded of the opening lines of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities.)

Jane Austen is, of course, THE standard for Regency Romance. Pride and Prejudice is the perfect example of the genre. The second best known author of Regencies is Georgette Heyer, who wrote in the mid-20th Century. Regencies nearly always deal with titled ladies and gentlemen—or at least members of the “gentry” (Austen’s milieu). The stories center on manners and mores of Regency society as dictated by the ton, the elite level of society just under the royal family. Regency novels are traditionally “sweet”—that is, they handle sexual affairs verrry discreetly (though I must note that apparently people then were not nearly so “nice” about such matters as the novelists of that era would lead us to believe). In any event, no one would ever have accused JA or Mrs. Edgeworth of having written a “bodice ripper.” Today, many Regencies, especially the “Regency Historicals” (which tend to be longer) often do deal more explicitly with the intimate lives of characters. The main emphasis—as in all Romance novels—is on the relationship between one man and one woman, though a given book may include a panorama of characters. Some Regencies may involve suspense or mystery or the paranormal. Still, the focus is on the hero and heroine.

Some writers of Regencies dwell too heavily, I think, on the esoteric language and customs of the period. I try not to do that, but I’m sure I am not always successful. It is, after all, the universality of the human experience that is most important, not tiresome descriptions of period clothing and using the slang of a given period—beyond giving “flavor” to a scene here and there.

WRITING GROUPS

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Some writers pooh-pooh the idea of writers’ groups. Perhaps they fear exposing themselves. Let’s face it: it takes guts to put your work out there in the limelight that shows all the zits and scars. Or, perhaps they fear someone will steal their ideas or their marvelous prose. That does happen, but only very rarely—so rarely that when it does, it becomes a major media event (Remember the brouhaha when Janet Daily stole whole paragraphs from Nora Roberts? Of when Rand Paul did some heavy-handed borrowing from Wikipedia?). For most of us, though, a good writing group is a godsend.

LMW_big_0My particular group is Lone Mountain Writers, founded in the early 90s by Marilee Swirczek at Western Nevada College. Today the group is only loosely associated with the college. Quite frankly, LMW is wonderful. Every writer should have such a knowledgeable, supportive group! Ours is very eclectic in terms of both the members and the things they write. We range in age from twenties to seventies. I especially appreciate the fact that LMW has several men in it. If one writes romance, getting the alternative point of view is a must. Most of us write fiction—the gamut, from inspirational to soft porn (think 50 shades of anything). Occasionally someone hands us an essay or submits a poem to the crucible of critique.

Twice a month for two hours we discuss four submissions of approximately 15 pages each (these have been emailed the previous week). Detailed line editing is done on the manuscript and handled individually. During the meeting we try to confine ourselves to global comments that may be helpful not only to the individual writer, but address writer issues on a broader level.

There are few “rules”: Be positive and helpful; explain what did and did not work for you as a reader. Occasionally offer suggestions, but trust the writer to fix the problem—if he or she even agrees there is a problem.

Trust and respect. For the writer and his or her work. I do not ordinarily choose to read horror stories (zombies, etc.) or weird graphic sex, but I’ll read anything members of the group offer because I know that what I bring to them may not be their cup of tea either. But they read it. And, oh, my! are they ever helpful!
I would not willingly give up my association with Lone Mountain Writers.

OLD HABITS ARE HARD TO BREAK

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Pencils    Everyone tells me I need a blog. So here I am trying to “blog.” I don’t have a clue. I guess you just spill your guts about whatever pops into your mind. So I have this blank sheet of paper in front of me—and a blank mind. Yes. I said “blank sheet of paper” because that’s the way I write: with lined composition paper and a No. 2 pencil.

Big ChiefThat’s the way I started when I was in 6th grade back in the dark ages. Mapril Easton and I filled pages and pages of Big Chief tablets with rambling tales of horses and cowboys and Indians and pioneer settlers. Mapril’s mom was our teacher in a one-room school complete with a wood stove and a three-hole outhouse. Straight out of Little House on the Prairie, only in rural Oregon. While Mrs. Easton worked with younger kids, Mapril and I would ignore that list of math problems she had given us and lose ourselves in making up adventures for Dangerous Dan and his wonderful horse Rusty or some such.

So that’s how it started: Lined paper and a No. 2 pencil. Today, of course, there is another step—one involving a computer with which I have what can only be described as a love-hate relationship!